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Indian Lake Pathway
The DNR Indian Lake Pathway hiking, bicycling, cross country skiing trail is a lightly used 4.5 mile single track trail through lightly logged Lake Superior State Forest land, near Indian Lake and the Big Spring, northwest of Manistique.
We've passed this trailhead frequently but only once ventured down the trail for a short ways one mosquitoey summer day some years ago. I recall it wasn't very clear of brush and we never went back, having better nearby trails to walk. But this winter-of-hiking we gave it another chance. And it was quite nice, in addition to being close to home. It's a woods trail not a road trail so it is mainly one track, mainly the domain of skiiers when there is enough snow, but a nice hiking trail when there isn't. When we went there was a bit of young growth in the trail but not excessive, and having clipped millions (it seemed) ourselves of those small hardwood trees-to-be in an attempt to keep a trail clear we know how challenging that can be.
February 1, 2021 -- Starting February with the Indian Lake Ski Trail
Only 8 miles from home is a nice little 4.5 mile hiking/biking/skiing DNR trail - the Indian Lake Pathway. Since it was a beautiful, upper 20's, calm wind, partly cloudy day (also known as a hiking day), and we had need to go into Manistique, we decided to look into this trail on our way home. If it didn't look like it was worth walking we would walk on down the road to the local snowmobile trail. We knew there was a parking area at the Pathway and, thankfully, it was nicely and completely plowed. Not surprisingly, given the low amount of snow, there were more boot tracks on the trail than ski tracks so we didn't mind adding our own shoe tracks, there not being enough snow to require boots, and we prefer walking in shoes (with wool socks).
There was sun-time for a couple hours walk and the map showed three consecutive loops, the longest being 4.5 miles. Just right for our walk. The trail at the trail-head end was well packed with tracks so walking was pretty easy, if a bit lumpy. And especially through the first loop there were plenty of blue trail markers and easy to read maps at the intersections so one was unlikely to get lost. But the trial crosses several snowmobile-roads and there were many well traveled animal trails criss-crossing the main trail so if you weren't paying attention, or if there had been a fresh new snowfall with no tracks, the markers would be much appreciated. As the trail went on there weren't so many, but there were enough.
The overcast sky gave way to sun as we walked and there was just occasional light winds, mostly blocked by the woods, so it was enjoyably mild. The first loop went through a sparse woods which had been logged, mostly (my guess) due to the dead and dying beech. The area was thick with young growing beech trees, decked out in their pretty sienna colored winter leaves that shiver with any hint of breeze, and dance lively in a wind, making a soothing rustling sound. Hopefully these young ones will survive to re-create a beautiful beech forest one day. Meantime, it was a pleasant woods and it let the sporadic sun shine through. There were several ski tracks on the trail though it must have been a challenging trek with the lack of snow, the abundance of boot and animal tracks, and periodic areas of young brush in the trail. Walking had to be easier.
As we walked on through the second loop the woods were a little thicker with some red pine plantation, and the people tracks fewer. Around the third, outer, loop we lost all but one dedicated skiier and one hiker. The terrain became hilly, interesting, and the mixed hardwoods more dense, though still with a fair number of large dead beech and young growth. It was a nice forest and the sun shining through made it even better. The deer and coyote tracks and animal trails became even more numerous.
At the far end of the third loop where it curves around to go back there were two ZZ signs on the map -- most difficult. So it was no surprise when we came to a higher ridge and a nice climb upward with the herring-bone tracks of the skiier in the snow. We decided to stop and eat our lunch at the top in the area between the signs. We found a spot near a large dead beech that had fallen across the trail and settled down on a nicely placed mound beside the trail. With the sun warming us through the trees we rested and ate our warm salsa and rice lunch. What a beautiful world.
We dug in our heels as we made our way down the other side of the high ridge and paused to step over a tree toppled across the path. That had to be a disappointment to the skiier, to have a nice, though steep, down-hill interrupted by a tree. But they obviously got over it and continued on as did we, walking beside the ski tracks when we could, making a trail for whoever might come after, often walking in the well traveled animal tracks. We had lost the lone hiker at the shortcut across loop 3 before one got to the big hill. Walking in the loose snow was a lot like walking in dry sand on the beach. It was an enjoyable walk back, a reverse of the woods types we'd encountered earlier, the sun warming us up enough to remove some layers. And then it was only a short trip home in the car which was nice..
We'll likely walk this trail again, snow allowing, and there is always the option of getting off the trail and walking the groomed Snowmobile Trail #7 which crosses the Pathway in several spots. But that will be for another day.
April 5, 2021 -- Re-visiting Indian Lake Pathway
When we walked the local snowmobile trail Saturday we passed by two spots where the Indian Lake Pathway trail crosses, a reminder that we wanted to walk that trail now that the snow was gone, and before mosquito season, since we had guessed that the lower Loop area might be wet. Today we had to go into Manistique so we stopped on our way home to walk the now bare trail.
It was indeed bare of snow (except for a few spots) and the low Loop 1 was indeed wet. In fact we spent as much time finding ways around the marsh and water filled low areas on the trail and surrounding grounds as we did just walking this section. As we remembered (it was only two months ago that we walked this trail in the snow) this is woods thick with young re-growth, and much easier to walk when frozen. It may dry up later in the summer but spring is a time to avoid this Loop. It would be beter to go on the snowmobile/orv two-track to where the Pathway trail crosses and just walk Loops 2 and 3.
But soon we were on the 2nd Loop which is higher, hillier, and with a more complete woods of mixed ages and types. There were even a couple of large, healthy looking live beeches, along with the many young ones doing their best to reforest this once heavy beech woods. We left most of the "trail ponds" behind. It was a beautiful sunny mid-50's day and we enjoyed this section. Since this is a "lightly" managed trail one had to keep alert for rough footing, especially those sticks that jumped up to try to trip you when you stepped on one end. Quite a different walk than the fairly easy snowmobile/ORV two-track. There was a wind but in the heavier woods it was light and we warmed up and shed layers. Just before we got to Loop 3 and the higher terrain we were ready for lunch, spying a creatively shaped cherry tree to stop near. This is also where the Pathway Trail and the snomo-ORV trails run side-by-side for a ways before the hiking trail crosses to head up into higher ground. It was so nice to have it warm enough to enjoy sitting, removing shoes, admiring the woods around us.
We looked forward to the hills and ridges of Loop 3 with its "most difficult" ZZ designation (for skiiers). A less logged, even nicer woods section it was hard to keep an eye on the rough trail while gazing at the forest. We weren't disappointed, this is a real nice trail, a beautiful forest, and some nice views down into lower valleys. It was also much easier walking without a foot or so of snow. Fun to touch base with remembered spots - where we ate lunch, where the intrepid skiier had to dismount to go over a large downed tree, then the tree across the steep down-hill. Plus a few more downed trees. The dead beeches are still falling.
It seemed shorter going back down and back along Loop 3, then 2, stopping to look at the maps at the intersections even though we knew where we were. It's a well marked fairly simple, enjoyable trail. But toward the end of Loop 2 we were back to the wetlands, making our way around mini-(and not so mini) swamps, trying to keep our eye on the not very distinct this time of year trail. Most of the path looked quite different in its spring coat instead of white snow. We ended up taking the north cross path of Loop 1 without knowing it until we found ourselves on the NE leg instead of the SW leg heading back to the parking lot. The wind had picked up and was felt more in this open area, and not exactly warm yet. It was good to get back to firm and dry ground! Plus a warm car. But overall we enjoyed our afternoon re-visit to this nice local Pathway.
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© 2021 by Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
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